Maybe Hollywood is tapping into the ancestral female animal instinct to choose the mightiest, strongest, toughest genes for their offspring. Maybe it's just because Good Is Boring and Evil Is Sexy. Whatever the reason, in Hollywood, it's the bad boys the girls want.
The "bad boy" targets the strongest womanly instincts: the stoic, silent guy is a mystery waiting to be solved; the Troubled, but Cute youth with a tragic past is a woobie needing comfort; he's tough enough to be a girl's protector, but vulnerable enough to need her as well. Add to that the fact that Evil Is Cool, the Anti-Hero ranks as Bachelor of the Month.
All this, of course, tends to gloss over the fact that bad boys are bad, meaning criminally inclined, self-centered, probably not too mentally stable, potentially abusive, might have trouble keeping a legal job, and will most likely be more interested in the physical (read: sexual) aspect of a relationship than anything else. He's also probably not going to be that concerned with fidelity, either. So what if he can't be trusted? It's an honor for girls in media to be chosen by him, to walk into prom night with him on her arm, to ride on the back of his motorcycle with her arms around his waist, to stick her tongue out at the Alpha Bitch from the passenger's seat of his stolen convertible.
Depending on the nature of the Bad Boy and whether he's redeemable or not, use of this trope may cause the viewer to question the character's sense or intelligence, particularly if it's immediately obvious to everyone from the outset of the relationship that the man is a thoroughly nasty piece of work. Don't count on Reformed Rakes if the bad boy is a One-Shot Character. If the bad boy and or the girl are unimportant characters, they have a tendency to be Straw Characters.
This portrayal can sometimes be the product of Entitled to Have You, Standard Hero Reward or Nice Guys Finish Last on the part of good guy we're supposed to root for or the audience or the author. This bad boy is made to be a foil and show how "undesirable" the other options are. This can backfire if there are female audience members who have something else in mind. Ironically, their Fix Fic is likely to 1) make the bad boy look better and 2) make the nice guy look worse.
Sometimes the badness is an Informed Attribute, such as with the Lovable Rogue. It all depends on what the author wants to use this trope for. It's entirely possible for someone to look like a bad boy but not fit the above description. Sometimes a supposed bad boy who really isn't has to deal with the advances of a hyperactive Fangirl who doesn't know when to cut it out resulting in comedy at the "bad boy's" expense.
Interestingly, younger women are often portrayed as prone to this trope, while older, more mature, and wiser women (meaning 35 and older) seem much less receptive to "bad boy" vibes (maybe they learnt their lesson through painful experience or are simply mature enough to know better), although there are always exceptions (especially bored housewifes with marital issues). Can be portrayed as being either savvy or if the bad boy falls into the not really a bad boy category (especially if he is a main character) as a overly protective but well meaning mother figure for the girl.
For really bad bad boys, the Girl (either intentionally or not) may find herself becoming a Monster Fangirl or a Love Martyr at worst. The girl may also go to the other end and find what they are looking for is the Nice Guy because Single Woman Seeks Good Man—particularly as a Second Love, and often via Just Friends, when they've been burned by their previous boyfriend.
See Single Woman Seeks Good Man for a typical inversion. A popular subversion is to make the guy look like a bad guy but revealing himself as a Jerk with a Heart of Gold with little to no criminal record.
Related to I Can Change My Beloved, which often follows after this. The fandom reaction version of this is Draco in Leather Pants. In high school settings often found alongside All Guys Want Cheerleaders (its Spear Counterpart). A male Sexier Alter Ego will probably be one of these. Contrast Adorkable and Weakness Turns Her On, where more timid, sweet, and "uncool" characters are seen as attractive.
Despite the gendered name, it can also be gender-inverted or applied to same-sex couples.
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- An advertisement for a brand of high-heeled shoes said shoes were like men. "The ones you want to take home with you aren't the ones you can live with."
- In the DC Comics Deck-Building Game, Wonder Woman and Black Canary need Villains in order to trigger their Super Hero abilities. The card Princess Diana of Themiscyra, i.e., Wonder Woman, automatically gains all Villains in the Line-up. In Crisis Mode, Black Canary is the only character who can add Villains to her deck under normal circumstances.
- Funky Winkerbean: In the mid-1990s, the romance between then-high school sweethearts Wally Winkerbean and Becky Blackburn. Becky was heavily involved with music and drama, but her heart fell for a guy that struggled in school and often drank and partied on the weekends. Years later, in 2010, Becky reflects back on how she came to fall in love with Wally note and admits that it was his "bad boy" attitude that drew her to him.
- Played with in these two Dilbert comics.
- Ink Pen's Scrappy Lad spends a week trying go bad to win over Moxie. He and Hammock discuss the trope.
- The BBC documentary The Human Animal proposes a reason this trope exists in simple biological terms. The short of it is that the dangerous aspects of the target are sexual advertisements. According to the documentary, on a biological level, women are looking for signs of protective prowess (IE: who will help protect and rear offspring). Displays of aggressive behavior are then read as signs of this prowess (cultural signs of this vary greatly, but the intended messages are the same). Once partnered up, however, the female will actively work to prevent the male from displaying further (the "redeeming" aspect of this trope), so as to prevent the male from gathering further attention from the opposite sex. There's a lot more to human courtship, of course, mostly because, unlike other primates alive today, sex among humans lasts more than 8 seconds.
- Brought up in song in Lady and the Tramp:
He's a tramp
He's a scoundrel
He's a rounder
He's a cad
He's a tramp
But I love him
Yes, even I have got it really bad...
- In Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, Cindy has the hots for local skateboarder Nick Dean...that is, until he encounters Poultra and Screams Like a Little Girl.
- In the Wonder Woman film, Steve suspects this with Hippolyta and Ares. Hard to get badder than the God of War.
- Gender-Flipped in Hercules. The titular hero is sweet, innocent, Adorkable, and head over heels for the sexy, sarcastic, jaded Anti Villainess Megara. The feeling turns out to be quite mutual, and Love Redeems in its classic form kicks in. Definitely something different, especially for a Disney movie.
- The Sword in the Stone: The cheerful red haired girl squirrel was already in love with Arthur/Wart in squirrel form the moment she laid eyes on him. When she wraps her tail around him and kisses him on the lips three times, he wipes his mouth, throws her tail over her head and pushes her. She chirps in an excited, flirtatious way suggesting this trope.
- In Shinbone Alley Mehitabel lusts after the roguish Big Bill even though he's treated her badly in the past. She even goes back to him in the end despite the fact he ran out on her when she gave birth to his litter.
- Jeff Foxworthy mocked and Deconstructed this trope at the same time. He said that when women say they want a "dangerous" guy, they're usually thinking of some James Bond-type of dude, but if a woman did end up with a "dangerous" man, then the likeliest outcome would have them on an episode of Cops with her hanging out of the trailer in a tube top, screaming "Lock his ass up!"
- Bill Hicks has a routine about this trope in which the "bad boy" is Satan and the woman believes I Can Change My Beloved. He has also recorded a song about it: "Chicks Dig Jerks". Both have a decidedly bitter tone.
- Glen Foster, aka "That Canadian Guy", says that someone once told him that girls may be attracted to bad boys initially, but they don't stay with the bad boys. Glen interprets this as a double benefit.
- Toyed with in Crescendo ~Eien Dato Omotte Ita Ano Koro~. Ryo, the main character, is a gruff guy with a bad reputation and a troubled past who sleeps through school enough to put his graduation in jeopardy. However, the girls like him... because he's a kind-hearted guy who stands by them when they need support, not the fact that he can beat up 3 guys at once.
- Dream Daddy: Deconstructed. The player can try to start a relationship with the local Bad Dad Robert, but in the Good Ending, Robert will admit that he isn't in a good place, emotionally or psychologically and wants to focus on rebuilding the bridge between himself and his daughter, asking the player to give him time to fix himself up so they can start an actually healthy relationship in the future and staying Just Friends until there.
- Monster Prom: Among the dateable characters, Damien is actively described as a bad boy, he is a demon and an arsonist that loves to cause mayhem and destruction.
- Yo-Jin-Bo has Tatsunami Ittosai as one of your possible options. He actually betrays the heroine to the villains, becoming The Mole for a substantial section of the game, but can be redeemed courtesy of the Power of Trust, and has some of the most emotional endings in the game.
- Diabolik Lovers is all about a girl who is abused by a group of Bishōnen vampire brothers. One of them even calls her 'Bitch-chan'. It's intended to be fanservice for girls who do want bad boys.
- Subverted in Shall We Date?: Ninja Shadow: two of Saori's potential love interests (Toru Nakagawa and Tsubaki Kusunoki) fit very well as bad boys in one way or another... but Saori, who tends to swear by the "Single Woman Seeks Good Man" principle, will only start looking their way when they show her their gentler, kinder sides. i.e., in Toru's younger brother Makoto's route, Saori will be repulsed by the "bad boy" Toru's Villainous Crush on her and remain firmly in love with Makoto... but Toru's own route will start with him showing his Anti-Villain chops right from the beginning and rescuing her at least twice from tight situations.